Talking Loud – Sulfur City (Alive Naturalsound)
There’s something special about a gutsy and compelling female vocalist fronting a hard rock band when it’s done right. Canadian band Sulfur City tick all those boxes.
Sulfur City’s bold, bluesy and soulful sound is a perfect fit for the Alive Naturalsound stable which has carved a market in the rootsy hard rock space. They’re the label’s first female-fronted act which was a surprise. .
Hailing from Ontario, the band’s focal point is ex-truck driver and bartender Lori Paradis, a flame-haired vocal powerhouse and electric washboard player (!) whose voice will knock you flat at 20 paces. “Talking Loud” is an attention-getting debut record overflowing with blues-boogie and soul goodness.
The bio namechecks Grace Slick, Patti Smith and Janice Joplin. Throw in Angie Pepper if you’re an Australian because there’s more than a passing resemblance when Paradis moderates her attack (as on the urgent “Whispers.)
While her range doesn’t match that of Janice, that’s not a criticism. Truth be told, Paradis is much more of a rock and roll singer and the Sulfur City engine room is a damned sight better than the one that propelled Big Brother and The Holding Company.
Cop an earful of Paradis on the stunning “One Day In June” and you’ll be an instant fan. This is what Lisa from The BellRays would sound like if her band had been birthed in pinewoods in the shadow of a maple leaf rather than the edge of Los Angeles with a long-distance glimpse of a Detroit factory smokestack. Paradis is at home slipping into a husky second gear, a la Earth Mother Smith, or belting out the blues.
Guitarist Jesse Lagace is her co-conspirator and knows his way around a fret board. His chunky riffing is at the heart of most of the tunes. He has a killer tone when he unleashes a solo - as on “War Going On”. Here’s a song where Keith Breit’s reedy organ sound also really comes into play. It colours quite a few of these songs and makes Sulfur City stand out from all those other bands harvesting the soul-meets-rock field.
Like the BellRays’ earliest efforts, the songs are the weakest point. Which isn’t to say they’re bad. Far from it. This is a band that doesn’t mind mixing it up stylistically so there’s still room to grow. For example, “You Don’t Know Me” is rippling Southern boogie-rock.“Kings Highway” mixes boogie-woogie with backwoods gospel. “One Day In June” gets into dirty blues. “Raise Hammer” is a playful, zydeco-tinged contrast. It’s all rooted in blues-rock with enough jagged edges in the production to keep it interesting.
While they’re hardly new hands at this thing (the band started in 2007) Sulfur City have a raw vitality in their sound that puts a shitload of bands of this ilk in the shade. Strap yourself in, this is an interesting ride.